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Following Senate Field Hearing, Sen. Franken Introduces Legislation to Stop Abusive Debt Collection Practices, Protect Patient Privacy

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Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced legislation to protect Minnesota patients from abusive debt collection practices and breaches of patient privacy. His legislation was introduced in response to two hearings he has convened, including a field hearing in St. Paul to look into allegations that Chicago-based Accretive Health inappropriately approached hospital patients for payment and allowed the private health information of thousands of patients to be stolen, among other things.

"Minnesotans should be able to see their doctor without being harassed for payment when they're in pain in the emergency room and without worrying that their private information will end up in the wrong hands," said Sen. Franken. "My legislation would protect patients and consumers by prohibiting abusive debt collection practices and requiring health providers to do everything they can to protect private medical information."

After listening to testimony from a field hearing he convened in May, Sen. Franken introduced two pieces of legislation. The End Debt Collector Abuse Act, which builds upon legislation he has previously introduced - and which was strengthened because of the testimony of Fairview Hospital patients, including one who was allegedly harassed for payment in the emergency room before she had even seen a doctor - would prohibit debt collectors from approaching patients in the emergency room, intensive care unit, or labor or delivery department. It also contains provisions that would help consumers understand the nature of their debt and hold unscrupulous debt collectors accountable. More information on the End Debt Collector Abuse Act is available here.

Sen. Franken also introduced the Protect our Health Privacy Act - motivated by the theft of an Accretive employee's laptop, which contained the unencrypted medical information of over 23,000 patients -which would require health providers to encrypt any portable device that stores health information. It would also restrict the use of health information by medical contractors, among other things. More information on that legislation is available here.

In May, Sen. Franken convened a field hearing after Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson issued a report alleging that Accretive's debt collection and patient privacy practices violated federal health, debt collection, and privacy laws. Accretive Health Inc. formerly was a contractor for Fairview Health Services in Minnesota. Last year, he convened a hearing of his Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law on the importance of protecting electronic health information. Today, Sen. Franken also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, urging the Obama Administration to release regulations for existing medical privacy laws.

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